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“The Effective Professional Interviewer”

by Stan B. Walters, CSP
“The Lie Guy®”

What is it that makes one interviewer more successful than another? Is it training? Do they have some special hidden talent? After analyzing more than 1000 video taped investigative interviews criminal justice researchers have been able to identify the performance characteristics that separate successful and unsuccessful interviewers. One of most telling results of these extensive studies is that only a minority of the investigators observed would qualify as “skilled interviewers.”

One observation that I have always had was that good investigators are not necessarily good interviewers and good interviewers are not always good investigators. We cannot assume being good at the one means that we are good at the other. Sadly one of the most disturbing findings of these studies was that 36% of the investigators observed would found to fall below a minimum standard of performance. The question is therefore, what are the optimum standards of behavior that are displayed by skilled and successful interviewers.

First, the skilled interviewer was well prepared before they entered the interview room. He or she knew the main elements needed to make the case. They approached the interview with the idea that the ultimate goal was the “construction of proof.”

Second, the interviewer allowed the subject make an unhurried, uninterrupted opportunity to state their position. They tested the subject’s responses fairly and without any form of pre-conceptions regarding possible credibility.

Third, the subject was allowed to present their personal view of the events in questions. This was accomplished using open ended and narrative oriented questions as opposed to short answer or leading questions.

Fourth, the successful interviewer listened to the subject. Not just listened to but, actually “heard” the subject. When the interviewer eventually asked questions they actively listened to the responses from the subject and effectively asked appropriate follow up questions to clarify mistakes, gaps, contradictions, and omissions.

The last finding was considered to be among the discoveries about the important characteristics of the successful interviewer. He or she had learned to adopt the personality behaviors and style of their subject. They also made an attempt to understand and take into consideration the circumstances of the case.

Consider your own personal interviewing style. Review past interviews that you may have recorded electronically. Listen to yourself as you interview subjects, victims and witnesses. Which successful techniques do you already use? Are there some subtle changes you can make to improve your techniques and ultimately your results?

Why Do Subjects Confess?

by Stan B. Walters, CSP
“The Lie Guy®”

During any investigative interview, the objective is to always get the truth whether by voluntary cooperation, admission or confession. Unfortunately what occasionally will happen during any interview however is the fact finder will lose sight of the reason why a subject chooses to provide a confession. To merely say that all people just want to confess is a far to simplistic and naïve a conclusion. Neither does the subject confess because the interviewer “wants” them to nor does the subject confess for the reasons the interview believes they should. The very same reasons that subjects choose to lie may in reality be the very same reasons the subjects decide to cooperate, inculpate and even confess.

Whatever the personality type the subject may possess along with their specific thinking or reasoning process, a subject will only acknowledge reality when they feel it is to their benefit to do so. The subject may be most motivated by what they perceive is significant punishment should they not confess. In their minds the evidence may have been presented in such a compelling fashion and form that to not acknowledge reality creates greater emotional or cognitive stress than to continue to lie. In addition, the fact that other family members, friends, and associates will also draw the same conclusions about the truth and their continuing denial in the face of reality can be overwhelmingly negative.

If a person will deceive in order to gain some form of reward can also be the exact same reason the person chooses to give in to the mounting evidence of reality. At the heart of this confession as well as the previous form, the subject does it for the preservation of his or her ego. The reward in the case may something they feel they will get in return. Perhaps they feel they gain power by telling the truth. Maybe their goal is to obtain notoriety and respect in some form because they acknowledged their actions as is the case in some acts of terrorism. By confessing the subject feels they have actually taken control of the events swirling around and maybe eventually what will happen to them in the form of any punishment.

Listening to the subject’s defense of their actions or the form by which they create their denials may be the key to determining what would be the best approach to move the subject to confession. The best of the interviewers learn how to put they thoughts, feelings, and prejudices aside and listen to and adopt those of their subjects. This same approach will serve as a tool to help the interviewer determine the reasoning for which a subject will choose to confess.